Lennox Berkeley Guitar Sonatina best recordings

Christopher Daly recommends the best recordings of Berkeley's guitar Sonatina (op. 52 no. 1).

This Sonatina is a work which is highly regarded by guitarists, and has become one of the most recorded of Berkeley’s works. According to the society’s website, it has appeared on no less than 29 CD titles since 1991. Its success surely arises from the fact that it is so idiomatic in guitaristic terms, yet at the same time it is truly representative of the elegant musical style which we expect of a Berkeley composition.

As well as beautiful melodic and harmonic progressions, the writing has great variety of texture and rhythmic pattern, making the Sonatina a demanding piece for guitarists. All recorded versions show technical command, but some lack attention to detail, particularly with respect to dynamics and rests.

Composed in 1957, the Sonatina was dedicated to Julian Bream, who gave its first performance at Morley College, London, on March 9 1958. Bream’s 1960 recording has recently been re-issued by Él Records in a collection entitled The Art of Julian Bream. This first version on disc shows a strong sense of direction in each of the three movements and a feeling of overall unity. Bream’s playing has exemplary articulation, cantabile melodic line and rhythmic vitality, and the old recording still gives a sense of both sonority and clarity.

Alex Garrobé (Lennox Berkeley, Stephen Dodgson, Malcolm Arnold on Ópera tres) plays sensitively with a warm tone. His middle movement (Lento) is smooth and expressive, has careful dynamic changes but is not too slow. This version also has the merit of a final movement (Rondo) which is more measured than most, thus correctly observing the given tempo marking (Allegro non troppo).

Carl Herring’s reading (on Azure - Falcon Records) is also well-considered throughout. The pace of both the first movement (Allegretto) and last (Rondo) seem just right. Melodic lines are played with lovely cantabile and again the Lento is persuasive. The playing is a little more flexible than on some versions - Herring eases forward movement at times, and is thus able to reveal the eloquence of the musical language. This CD is an interesting programme, also including compositions by Turina, Rodrigo, Bach and Tippett.

Anders Miolin’s recording (The Lion in the Lute - BIS) has a quite mellow but clear and resonant sound. Miolin’s version is faithfully detailed, and like Garrobé, he adopts the ʻnon troppo’ approach to the Rondo. Unusually, the guitar used is a ten-stringed instrument. The programme is substantial, and all British; featuring Walton, Rawsthorne, Berkeley, Tippett and Britten.

The above choices are recommended, but of course other recordings will have their merits, and the reviewer has not heard all CD issues of the Sonatina. Consideration of the various complete programmes offered by different discs will of course also help in making a decision.